Not long ago, I was on a podcast called Hope to Recharge and met the host, Matana, during my interview.
She reached out to me after because there was a youth suicide in her hometown and they asked her to speak at a school and she wanted some advice since I speak on this subject so frequently. We first went over guidelines of what not to say to this audience following the trauma of a student suicide. We talked about what she would say and then about grief and what meant most to parents who have lost a child.
I told her it’s the stories.
We want the stories about our child that we don’t know because we’re not getting new ones. So she told the students of her own struggles with mental illness and then had them write down stories about this teen on index cards to share with the young man’s parents later.
No gift, card, food offering means more. And it helps the kids, too, because they can talk about their friend, remember what they enjoyed about him. It allows them to grieve together and remember.
So often with a suicide, it’s hush hush and adults often are the instigators of this behavior while kids huddle around whispering because they are suffering and want to talk about it. And while other kids who die from other causes get special memorials at the school and even in the yearbook, those who die by suicide are often not included in these rituals.
Suicide is a public health issue and student deaths, however they occur, should be treated similarly. One child should not be memorialized and another at the same school ostracized in death for having suffered unimaginable emotional pain whether it’s the result of mental illness, trauma and any combination of triggers.
This lopsided approach, breeds anger, resentment, pain, and the students don’t get the opportunity to have a ritual to help them with their grief. And unresolved grief and loss can trigger additional suicides and later problems such as substance misuse and self harm.
This gesture warmed my heart. Some parents struggling with the most devastating loss of their life received a precious gift from these students when they got these stories about their son.
I think every school that experiences a loss of any kind, whether suicide, overdose, accident, or health problem should allow students or staff to write stories about the student or teacher who died to share with the living relatives.